The 53rd Legislature, 1st Regular Session is limping toward adjournment for good — hopefully later today, or tomorrow at the latest.
While it will over soon, we didn’t escape without a bunch more damage — the budget as laid out in last week’s Farley Report passed mostly intact with a few more pieces of conservative pork thrown in to attract votes from the hard right. Like much of what Governor Ducey did this session, it hurts our ability to move forward as a state and increases the mess we have to clean up once this Governor and his fellow travelers are finally voted out of office.
The really astonishing story was how far Governor Ducey was willing to go in order to shut out Democrats and teachers from the process. I’m going to reject the old aphorism that tells us that laws are like sausages, so it is better not to see them being made. This Farley Report lays out last week’s sausagemaking process in gory detail.
But first, the Pledge Break…
—> Last week’s action in DC made clear that if we Arizonans are going to maintain our healthcare coverage for an outrageously broad list of pre-existing conditions, we’re going to need to come up with Arizona-based solutions that help us all. I believe Governor Ducey has the wrong priorities to be trusted with our healthcare future. If you agree, please help the Arizona Democratic Party elect a governor with the right priorities by clicking here.
—> During his State of the State address in January, Governor Ducey made a couple of statements that astonished those of us on the other side of the aisle. Here are his exact words:
1) “It’s time for a raise for Arizona’s teachers. My budget will outline a permanent, lasting salary increase to all of Arizona’s teachers.”
2) “For Arizonans who are actively looking for a job, who are getting their kids to school — let’s extend them up to 12 additional months of cash assistance, known as TANF, as a bridge out of poverty and into a better life.” (He didn’t mention he was the one who pushed to cut TANF eligibility from 24 months to 12 months last year, the meanest TANF cut in the nation.)
Once his January budget proposal came out, the actual plan was outrageous. Here are his proposals:
1) 4/10 of one percent teacher raises for five years. An average of $15 a month. As one teacher told me, “Oh boy, now I can go to the movies once a month. By myself!”
2) TANF was proposed to return to 24 months eligibility, but with provisions that kicked the kids in crisis off the program if their parent made one mistake — like being late to a required meeting.
In the past month we Democrats have been ramping up our pressure — supported by teacher and parent groups around the state — to obtain 4% permanent teacher raises starting this year — ten times the amount Governor Ducey proposed. This is significant but reasonable. For context, it would take 7% raises to get us up to 49th in the country in average teacher salaries.
We also have continued to push for the TANF restoration without strings. It’s not fair to punish kids for the mistakes of their parents. And it has actually cost us around $9 million in lost federal funds since we started cutting the eligibility period!
As the budget agreement came to light early last week — reached behind closed doors between Gov. Ducey and legislative Republicans — we proposed funding sources already contained in their budget. There were plenty of unnecessary goodies placed in the budget by the Governor and various Republican legislators to gains their votes, including $250,000 in taxpayer money for a prize to horse breeders and a 33% raise for the Director of the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority.
There is $37 million annually in ongoing expenses for a so-called “Results-Based Funding” program designed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce with no input from education professionals, and rejected by all Arizona school superintendents that would transfer 2/3 of its money from high-poverty districts to low-poverty districts and charter schools.
The cap on corporate tax credits for private school tuition increases at an unsustainable 20% per year, and the requested credits reach that cap each year in less than one day. The total amount lost to that program annually is currently $61.9 million, increasing to $150 million in five years. I tried to plug that fiscal leak by amending a freeze on the cap growth, saving $12 million this year alone.
$107.2 million annually is frittered away to ongoing expenses for corporate tax cuts that, just like previous cuts, have not done a thing to help increase jobs or wages. For more on that, you must read this article about the many corporate tax cuts that phased in over the last few years — Economist Dennis Hoffman of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University said, “There is no discernible evidence that corporate economic activity accelerated in response to the cuts,” and even Jan Brewer now feels those cuts went too far.
The funding is there NOW for substantial teacher raises. But the Governor refused to negotiate with us.
So to force his hand we decided to leverage our votes on a program he was supporting, outside the budget in a standalone bill, that we could accept — a capital bonding program to build nearly a billion dollars worth of important projects at our three universities over the next 30 years.
He needed Democratic votes because Republicans on the far right were not supporting that proposal due to their opposition to the idea of bonding, and their general lack of support for universities.
Here’s the letter laying out our terms, signed by the entire Senate Democratic Caucus, that we sent to Governor Ducey early last week:
Dear Governor Ducey,
We are writing to express our sincere desire to work in a bipartisan manner to enact the university bonding proposal. Our position has been very clear for some time now; we are long-standing supporters of our state's higher education system, the teachers who educate our children and struggling families who need a hand up, not a hand out.
As always, we recognize and honor the role our universities play in educating the future workforce that will drive our 21st Century economy. We understand the critical role they play as the most important drivers of the Arizona economy.
In your state of the state address earlier this year you expressed your excitement in working with us on areas of common ground. You also stated in that speech, "No one goes into teaching to get rich, but everyone deserves to be rewarded for their hard work. Together, we can show the teachers of our state that their profession is valued, respected and indispensable."
Solving the teacher recruitment and retention crisis gripping our state is certainly an area of common ground for both Republicans and Democrats. And it will take bipartisan cooperation to develop a state budget that addresses this problem in a manner that will truly move the needle.
The restoration of TANF benefits to 24 months without unnecessarily penalizing recipients who are living in poverty is also a high priority for our Caucus. It is certainly time to have a longer conversation about the state of the social safety net in Arizona and restoring this cut would be a good way to start that dialogue.
While there are many issues in the budget that will remain unresolved, we have judiciously narrowed down our list of priorities and feel that a clean TANF restoration and a meaningful 4% teacher pay increase are requests that are reasonable and prudent.
By working together, with civility and respect, we can find the common ground to attain both our priorities and your forward-looking plan for university bonding.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Seems reasonable, no? We were simply asking for him to follow through on two promises that he had made in January, using funding we had identified. We were polite, but clear.
We did not receive a response.
Or maybe we did, when the Governor redoubled his efforts to give away more goodies to people further and further to the right in his effort to get what he wanted without having to gain Democratic votes.
Let me say that again in a more pointed way: Governor Ducey had no interest in working across the aisle to create a bipartisan budget, no matter how reasonable the terms.
And to put it another way: Governor Ducey had no interest in giving teachers a decent raise or helping families in crisis with a bridge out of poverty.
Here are just a few of the sweeteners that he was willing to give away that allowed him to get what he wanted from the right wing of his caucus:
> $2 million more to support the Koch Brothers-funded “Freedom Schools” at Uof A and ASU, paid for by taxpayers
> $10 million lost in revenues in order to give the richest taxpayers a max of $4 (four dollars) a year each in tax breaks while most of us get less or even nothing
> A vote on tax breaks for coin dealers
> A vote on making cities and counties and school districts hold bonding or override elections only during even-numbered years
In the end, he got all the votes he needed from his own Republican caucus. Teachers got a 1% nonpermanent raise this year and 1% nonpermanent raise next year. Families in crisis were ignored entirely.
Alongside my colleagues, I debated with all my passion on the floor for nine straight hours with one 5-minute break to support 4% teacher raises, TANF restoration, STEM and workforce training at community colleges, the protection of our initiative and referendum rights, the elimination of the disastrous private school voucher program, and many more true Arizona priorities. In the end it was not enough to overcome our numbers as the minority of this legislature.
Once the Republicans got enough votes on the board to pass the standalone university bonding bill and it was clear our leverage was completely gone, I decided to vote yes on that one non-budget bill because I have always supported our universities and high-paying construction jobs from public infrastructure projects. I voted an emphatic NO on every budget bill.
This sausagemaking exercise made one thing crystal clear: Governor Ducey and this legislative majority don’t share our values or priorities. It’s time for change in Arizona.
—> There was one bit of good news, somewhere in that mess of a budget. In 2013 I originated and pushed through the idea of allocating $1.5 million from rainy day fund interest in order to fund grants programs in the arts throughout the state, creating a huge return on that small investment in urban and rural areas alike. This year, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Bob Worsley, we were able to get it through again.
—> Don't ever let an Arizona Republican legislator or governor tell you we don't have enough money for public schools, community colleges, or universities. They are wrong. They've been giving away taxpayer money to the wrong priorities.
A new report by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting lays out just how much we are giving away in corporate sales tax loopholes, an issue I have been hammering at for my 11 years in the legislature. The damage this year alone? $13.7 BILLION.
Tragically, my bill SB1144 to start to tackle this problem, which passed the Senate 28-2 and which only needs floor a vote in the House, will not get that vote this year. It's time for change.
Next year, in November 2018, the people will speak.
—> Speaking of the upcoming election, they're all fired up in Sun City Rancho Vistoso for change at the Arizona Governor's Office! Thanks to all the amazing activists in Legislative District 11 for inviting me to speak at their spring fundraiser to more than 200 people last Saturday. With this kind of energy, we will win in 2018 and finally move AZ forward again.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
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